The Gift

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
When famous horror author comes to his local bookstore Jamie can't wait to meet his hero. Will the encounter live up to his expectations?

Submitted: June 06, 2019

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Submitted: June 06, 2019

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Jamie waited in the queue. He peered down the snaking line of people. The book shop was full of people, all clutching books and all eager to get a glimpse of the famous visitor. It wasn’t every day that one of the best selling horror writers came to the city. Jamie had read every Herbert Rice novel, often devouring it in one sitting on the day of publication. Nobody told stories like he did. As far as Jamie, and a lot of other readers were concerned, there wasn’t another living writer who could give you the chills like he did. His terrifying tales were just so imaginative. Judging by the crowds gathered in the small bookshop, he wasn’t the only fan obsessed with the author. But Jamie felt he was different. He wasn’t just another geek with a paperback. He was also a writer. He was a fellow artist. And this guy was his hero. To be given the chance of shaking his idol by the hand and telling him how much he inspired him would be just amazing.

As he neared the front of the line, he craned his neck. There he was, behind a desk, at the front of the queue. Surrounded by books was Herbert Rice himself. Jamie looked on in awe. It was so bizarre to see the face he’d seen on so many book covers, in front of him. His grip on his book tightened in anticipation of getting the volume signed. The queue shuffled and budged forward as reader after reader left with their signed copy. Jamie had so much he wanted to say to him. This was his chance. How could express just how important the author and his work was to him.

Finally, as the reader in front of him departed, grinning with her signed book, it was Jamie’s turn to meet the great man.

Herbert Rice looked up and smiled. He tugged a strand of grey hair out of his face. His eyes glowed brightly in contract to his aged craggy features. All the words he had planned to say got stuck in his throat. There was so much to say, he couldn’t put it all in to words. He mumbled that it was really good to meet him. He felt his cheeks burn red as he handed over his book to be signed. Still smiling, Herbert flicked open the book to the title page with the practised eased of a croupier dealing cards. The silver pen glinted as he looked up at Jamie.

‘Is this for you?’

‘Yes, yes it is.’

‘And your name?’

‘Jamie.’

Herbert nodded. He wrote For Jamie, best wishes, and then with a professional flourish, scribbled his illegible signature under the printed name. He snapped the book shut and handed it back to Jamie. In awe, he couldn’t find the words to capture how good it was to finally meet his idol.

‘Thanks for coming along.’ Herbert said.

The author turned away to the next waiting reader. Cursing himself for wasting the opportunity, Jamie tucked the book in his rucksack and headed for the exit.

He paced the pavement outside the book shop like a drunk at closing time. He should have told the author how much he inspired him. He should have told him he was a writer too, he should have told him something, anything. Now Herbert Rice would never know how he’d inspired another to pick up the pen and write. Jamie had read lots of How To books but nothing motivated him like the novels of Herbert Rice. The imagination oozed from the page, and after devouring a couple of chapters he would reach for his notepad to attempt a story of his own.

An hour later he was sitting in a coffee shop up the road from the book store. As he sipped his cup of tea he started the firs chapter of Rice’s latest novel. The book felt different in his hands, as though electricity was running, pulsing through it and into him. He turned to the front page. He stared in wonder at the scribbled signature. He cringed as he recalled the dull exchange with the writer. Even the dedication, best wishes, was hardly personal. He would have liked a more inspiring dedication, but as Jamie had neglected to tell him how he felt, the author had assumed he was just another pleb with a paperback.

He took a sip of tea and looked out at the busy high street outside. Maybe Herbert Rice would do another tour next year to promote another book. Maybe then Jamie would get the chance to tell him of his writing and maybe next time he’d take the chance.

He noticed a familiar figure stroll by outside. It took him a moment to figure out who it was. As the realisation dawned on him that it was none other than Rice himself, Jamie tossed his belongings into his rucksack and grabbed his coat. He rushed for the door. He emerged on the pavement just in time to see the author enter a pub. Jamie moved quickly, just short of running. He took a deep breath and pushed through the double doors as casually as he could. He spotted the elderly author at the bar. He looked on as he took his pint and went to find a table in a quiet corner of the bar.

Jamie went to the bar. He had to play this just right. He couldn’t go rushing up to a man like Herbert Rice. You had to plan these things. He ordered himself a pint and eyed the author from across the pub. He sipped his beer and waited.

Finally, as the beer added courage and indignation to his plight, he downed the last of his pint. He decided it was time to act. If he did not do it now, he would most likely let his hero walk right past him and away into the night.

He approached the table warily as though the author was a wild animal in a cage.

‘Sorry to disturb you,’ he started. ‘I am a massive fan of your work.’

‘Were you at the book signing earlier?’ The old man growled.

‘Yes, that’s right.’

‘Then,’ he snapped. ‘I suggest you go home and read the book.’

Jamie paused a second. He had something he was determined to say to the author.

‘I am a writer too.’

The author’s features softened, his craggy features cracked into a smile, like ice melting.

‘Dear, boy, why didn’t you say? In that case, take a seat, but not before you’ve bought your hero a drink.’

He gave a throaty laugh. Jamie smiled, he nodded, of course, and made for the bar.

He retuned armed with two pints. He took the seat facing the author, still in disbelief that he was actually being granted an audience with the legendary writer.

‘So, tell me about your stories.’ said Herbert.

Jamie was honoured. He could not believe his hero was asking about his stories. Surely it should have been the other way round. Jamie took a swig of his pint and explained that he had been writing stories for as long as he could remember. He told him that so far, unsurprisingly, he had had little success. He wrote for the fun of it. It was the process he lived for, the fact that he was, as yet, unpublished was only a minor issue.

‘We are artists. We dedicate ourselves to the art, not for financial rewards, but for the art. It is purely our art that matters.’

Jamie nodded in agreement. That was exactly how it was. He had all kinds of ideas and spent any free moment scribbling away furiously.

‘I look back on my early days with fondness.’ Herbert went on. ‘I was unpublished but unperturbed.’

‘I wish I had your gift.’ Jamie said.

‘You don’t mean that.’

‘I do.’

‘Really? Do you swear?’

‘I am a writer,’ insisted Jamie. ‘I want to have an imagination like yours.’

The author’s face was as troubled as a stormy sky. He waved a finger.

‘I am going to ask you one last time. Do you really want to write like me?’

‘Yes, I do, more than anything.’

‘Give me your right hand.’

Unsure quite where this encounter was headed, Jamie held out his hand. Herbert turned Jamie’s hand over, palm up. He produced a silver pen. He gave Jamie a smile and dragged the pen nib across his palm. The nib cut deep, drawing blood. Jamie winced, snatching his hand away. As he stared at his bleeding hand, the world flickered. It was like watching a television that kept losing signal. The world itself seemed to flicker on and off. The scene all around him throbbed and pulsed, flashing like strobe lighting.

Then everything returned to normal. Jamie breathed hard. His hand hurt. He wanted to ask the author what he had done to him. He looked up and gasped. He was alone. The writer had vanished. The silver pen lay on the table top. Jamie, unsure what was going on, reached and pocketed the pen. If he saw the author again, he would return the pen and ask what on earth was happening. He finished his pint and got to his feet. As he crossed the pub a woman in her twenties stared at him. She had shoulder length dark hair and an easy smile. She was sipping a bottle of lager.

He was right in front of her when she screamed. In a quick fluid move, she smashed the bottle against the bar. Clutching the neck of the broken bottle she jammed the jagged edge into her own throat. Blood spurted from the gaping wound, pumping, running down her blouse. Jamie was about to call out for someone to help when, with a flicker of light, the woman was once again standing uninjured, sipping her beer and chatting with her friends. Jamie shook his head in an attempt to clear it. He pushed through the people in the pub and burst through the doors and out onto the dark pavement.

He took a deep breath, a good lungful of night air. A man in a parka coat walked by. He was somewhere in his forties with a dated mop hair cut. Suddenly the man stopped walking. He clutched his stomach, a look of discomfort on his face. In the light spilling out from the pub doorway Jamie saw him double up in agony. He dropped to the pavement as Jamie looked on. His face twisted and pulsed as through there was something underneath the skin trying to escape. His features began to change. Tufts of thick dark hair began to sprout all over his pale face. The hair sprang up like weeds between paving stones. The thick hair burst out more and more, thicker and thicker, at a shocking speed. The man screamed, his mouth a twisted horror gape. His scream became deeper, developing in to a low growl. The shape of his body started to change. His human form turned more basic, more animal. He dropped on to all-fours, and at that moment he became fully transformed into a wolf. The bright-eyed creature howled and yelped.

And then, a split-second later, the moment had passed and he was back to normal and causally walking down the night street.

Up ahead two men were waiting at a bus stop. A black cab taxi purred along. One man pushed his friend in front of the passing cab. The guy fell, arms flailing, under the wheels of the taxi. There was the screeching of brakes, of tyres on night-time tarmac, but it was too late. The man was chewed up under the cab bonnet.

The, with a flashbulb flicker, the two men were once again standing side by side at the bus stop.

Jamie was horrified by the strange nightmarish visions that tormented him. It was at that moment he realised what they were. They were visions, glimpses of terror. He knew the author was the cause of the strange things he was seeing. Had he not bought the drinks himself he would have thought his pint had been spiked with a hallucinogenic drug. But the writer had not even moved from his seat. But whatever trick, spell or curse, the writer was definitely behind it, that much Jamie knew for certain.

He waved down a passing taxi cab. He had never been so grateful to see the bright yellow glow of the vacant taxi light. Shivering in fright from the awful scenes, he climbed in the back, closing the door behind him. As the driver transformed into a hideous grinning clown, Jamie barked his home address. The white-faced red-eyed clown nodded. Jamie closed his eyes tight and tried to control his breathing.

Twenty minutes later the taxi swung to the kerb and came to a stop. Jamie opened his eyes warily. The driver was still the frightening clown but a glance outside told him he was home. That was the main thing. He threw the driver a twenty pound note and told him to keep the change. The sooner he was inside the safety of his home the better.

He dashed across the pavement and fumbled with the keys in the door. He locked and bolted the door. What had the writer done to him? He stumbled up the stairs and crashed into his bedroom. He slammed the door shut behind hum.

In the lamp-glow creatures scuttled in the shadows. He yanked the duvet from the bed and crawled to the corner of the room. Huddled in the corner, petrified, he couldn’t get the awful images out of his head.

Then something occurred to him. He knew what he had to do. He shrugged out of the duvet. Ignoring the crazed axe murderer lurking at the foot of his bed, and the wolf howling outside his window, he went over to his writing desk.

 


© Copyright 2019 CTPlatt. All rights reserved.

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